I was asked recently to run a couple of sessions for HR students on success in organisations. I asked them to identify ‘What good looks like’ in their own companies – always a useful exercise, as we are usually much better at pointing out the short comings than recognising the good!
Unsurprisingly they quickly identified that people play a major part, both in productivity and in the culture of making a happy workplace. We then thought about how we can build on and maximise what is going right.
In case you’re not familiar with them, let me share highlights from a couple of pieces of research we focused on. Firstly, the 2009 Macleod ‘Engaging for Success’ report unearthed some really interesting findings about the difference it makes if employees are engaged in their work, rather than sleepwalking through it, or worse still, being negative about it. Despite being aware that engagement was a ‘good thing’, the students weren’t aware of how much difference it makes to the bottom line. The research talks about 18% more productivity, less accidents, less sickness days and much less staff turnover, which all make a significant impact on the bottom line. In addition, engaged staff will recommend your company to both potential customers and friends looking for work – so you get help with marketing, PR and HR thrown in too.
It’s not about fluffy optional extras, it’s about getting the best from your resources – and people are a flexible resource, with a large degree of autonomy over just how much effort they put into their work.
MacLeod identified four factors that contribute to employee engagement. How does your organisation match up to each one? Where are you strong, and where could you improve?
- Leaders that make it clear where the organisation is heading, where it is now and where it has been in the past. Macleod calls this ‘Strategic narrative’. It’s about making the story clear, so that your people understand what it is they are part of, and how their role fits into the bigger picture.
- Managers that make an effort to build effective relationships with their team members, treating them as individuals, appreciate their effort and giving them a clear brief. Research shows that 80% of our discretionary effort is down to our relationship with our line manager, so don’t expect your staff to go the extra mile for you unless you are doing it for them.
- Being heard. What opportunity do your people have to tell your their ideas, concerns, successes? Sometimes it takes no more than an attentive line manager. Asking for opinion and then appearing not to acknowledge it is all too prevalent. If you think someone is not listening to you, how likely are you to put yourself out for that person?
- Integrity. We don’t commit to something, or someone, we don’t trust. One of the easiest ways to stop your people working hard and being loyal is to give them evidence that you can’t be trusted. Not living up to your organisational values is one way, not keeping your word, not explaining why things needs to change, asking them to tell white lies. If you were looking hard for evidence that your integrity is flawed, would you find it?
In addition to MacLeod, we also looked at the global Gallup findings that Marcus Buckingham talks about in ‘First, Break all the Rules’ and ‘Now, Discover Your Strengths’. You can’t argue with Gallup’s statistical data -they’ve interviewed over two million workers worldwide! They asked the question ‘Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best at work?’ Only 20% of employees answered yes. Bizarrely, the higher up the ladder the employees are, the less likely they were to be using their skills.
Too often we are stuck in the ‘deficit model’; we put all our energy into trying to fix our weaknesses. Of course gaps must be plugged, but as a general approach, it is not exactly uplifting, is it? As a general rule, we achieve a huge amount more for the same amount of effort when we are building on our skills and interests – the things that fire us up. When we try to ‘fix’ the things we are not very good at and do not enjoy, it can feel more like swimming in mud.
There is nothing new here, but I found it useful to be reminded of ‘What good looks like’. I hope you do too. You can check out the research for yourself but the bottom line is that we have huge pools of talent and resource that we are not using effectively. One important key to finding it is to have good line management that will look for it, nurture it, and give it opportunity to flourish.
The other session I ran looked at failure – we’ll look at that another time.
By Julie Cooper
Author of Face to Face in the Workplace
“If you deal with people you need this book” Buy your copy here